Arizona lifts ban on veteran enrollments at Pima Community College
By CAROL ANN ALAIMO | The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson | Published: May 21, 2014
Military veterans can once again enroll at Pima Community College after state officials rescinded a rare ban on such sign-ups.
PCC is back in the state's good graces after belatedly following through on a pledge to fix faulty record-keeping systems for students who served their county.
Arizona's Department of Veterans' Services, the state approving agency for veterans' education programs, put the 60-day ban in place in March after PCC neglected for two years to correct the problems despite promising to do so.
Pima's failure to document when veterans quit, flunked out or changed programs, for example, cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars a year in wrongly dispensed federal aid for such students.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs asked state officials to intervene to force corrective action. PCC could have faced a yearlong ban if it had failed to make fixes this time.
In a May 16 letter, a state veterans department official said PCC made "remarkable" progress during the ban period and could immediately resume enrolling military veterans.
About 40 college employees spent several weeks checking for errors in more than 3,000 student veteran files.
State inspectors who visited Tucson last week found PCC now "fully in compliance" with veterans aid rules, the letter said.
The reinstatement of its ability to enroll veterans comes at a crucial time for PCC, which is on probation with its accreditor and is seeing steep declines in overall enrollment. The college typically enrolls about 1,400 veterans a year.
In a blog post Tuesday, PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert said the college "owes its student veterans the best possible programs and services."
Getting the ban lifted was a "big step" toward that goal, said Lambert, an Army veteran.
Student veterans were shortchanged in several areas under the college's previous leadership, internal investigations have found.
In 2011, for example, PCC created a $30,000 veterans center so small and ill-equipped that students found it virtually useless. This year, the college scrapped the old center and budgeted another $77,000 to open a new one.
PCC also is under orders from another state agency to fix similar record-keeping problems affecting nonveteran students.
Arizona's auditor general recently found irregularities in the files of those who receive Pell Grants, Perkins loans and other federal financial aid.
As a result, students may have received grant and loan money to which they weren't entitled, the auditor said.
PCC pledged to fix those concerns by December and has already started taking corrective action, college officials said.